Preparing for a Crisis
Sooner or later every organization faces a crisis. Preventing a damaging blow to your reputation requires a strategic crisis plan. While the plan needs to be catered to your business and your specific situation, they all have three things in common:
- You must be assertive.
- You must be tenacious.
- If you’re in the wrong, you must express remorse.
The best time to deal with a crisis is before it occurs. When the phone is ringing, the TV cameras are set up outside, and the state of your organization is chaos, it’s not the best time to make informed decisions. Here are some tips for getting in front of the crisis.
- Be Prepared. When a crisis strikes, how will you relay your message, i.e., your side of the story? Depending on your organization and the scope of the crisis, you may want to submit a video. Be proactive and set up an account with iReport, CNN’s citizen journalism initiative that allows individuals to contribute pictures and video of breaking news. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the local media. Know who’s who, and who’s where. These relationships are crucial.
- Create a Critical First Statement. The first critical statement is a way to tell the world that a crisis has occurred, that you know about it, that your organization is dealing with it, and that you will provide more information as soon as you have it.
- Act Quickly. Presenting the critical first statement at the beginning of the situation will help diffuse speculation, negative remarks and will help protect your reputation. Have a spokesperson in place.
- Be Concise and Candid. You will be delivering a great deal of information in a short time. Be honest and straightforward. Don’t speculate. Don’t sugarcoat the issue. Your goal is to build trust.
- Monitor the Message. What is being said about your organization? About you? You can only provide responses if you know what is being said and by whom.
- Offer Apologies When Necessary. It’s OK to say you are sorry. It’s even more important to let the public know that you have employed tactical steps to ensure this event will not recur.
- Seek the Services of a Reputable Crisis Communicator. Even though many organizations have PR professionals on staff, outside experts are often brought in during a crisis to work with that individual and his/her team. It allows those on staff to carry on the day-to-day operations. An outside crisis communications consultant can focus on one issue and see it through to the end. While the individual employed by the organization may be somewhat biased, an outside crisis expert can separate the professional from personal. Their only objective is to help the organization get through the crisis with minimal damage.
Strategies for dealing with a crisis often involve unpopular solutions that could put a staff member in an awkward position with management or other departments. Because the outside expert has no personal relationships to protect — other than protecting the client itself — he/she can take what may be viewed as a more challenging approach with fewer repercussions.
Although there is an additional cost to hiring an outside communications consultant, the benefits and return on investment are compelling. By utilizing an expert, you will be in a position of strength. It takes critical steps involving both internal and external communication to successfully manage a crisis and protect your reputation.